Voting Above The Line Versus Below The Line: An Explainer

22 November 2018

When you’re voting in the state election on 24 November, you’re given the option of voting above the line or below the line on the ballot for the upper house, otherwise known as the legislative council. The difference between these two methods isn’t as simple as you might think.

Voting above the line is easier, because you only have to number one box. However, if you only vote for one party above the line, your vote will travel onto whoever that party has preferenced.

If you vote below the line, you have to number at least five boxes, but your vote will be exhausted once you finish numbering the boxes. This means that you know exactly who you are voting for.

Due to this group voting method, which has been abolished in every state other than Victoria and Western Australia, it is likely that many upper house seats could go to fringe minor party members who attract only a very small percentage of the vote.

ABC election analyst Antony Green is urging voters to vote below the line, to “break the preferences harvester’s business model”. Most parties’ preference deals were orchestrated by Senator Derryn Hinch’s chief of staff, Glenn Druery, who has been dubbed the “preference whisperer” due to his past success in getting minor candidates elected through preferences.

Minor parties such as Transport Matters, Health Australia, Sustainable Australia and The Aussie Battler Party are looking like they could potentially win upper house seats.

The somewhat confusing maths behind this controversy is the way in which preferences are allocated. In Victoria, the legislative council is composed of eight regions, each containing five seats. In order to win a seat in the upper house, a party must simply achieve a certain proportion of the vote, generally around 16.6 per cent. However, if a party has received more than they require to win a seat, and do not have enough to challenge for a second seat, then they may preference the votes of anyone who voted for them above the line to another party of their choosing.

This means that some parties with almost no public presence seem set to win seats. This has seen Stuart O’Neill of the Aussie Battlers Party and Rodney Barton of the Transport Matters Party both become very hopeful candidates for upper house seats, despite being predicted to receive around 0.3 per cent of the primary vote in their regions.

The danger in group voting tickets is that ticket names can be deceiving. While many ticket names may sound innocent enough, there is no requirement that they have to accurately express what the party stands for. For example, Health Australia is an anti-vaccination party and Sustainable Australia is an anti-immigration party.

In addition, this raises concerns about the integrity of the voting system. If a candidate who is unknown to the public is elected, their claim to being representative is flawed. It could certainly be argued that this system of preference allocation ought to be removed, as it has been in almost every other state.

Whether you’re voting above the line or below the line, it’s important to know what the parties you’re voting for stand for. Read up on their policies on their websites and more importantly, in the media.

You can see where each ticket is directing their preferences for each region here.

2 responses to “Voting Above The Line Versus Below The Line: An Explainer”

  1. Steven McLachlan says:

    Thank you.

  2. Tearza says:

    I wish the media will take more this issue of educating people about the voting system. I am in NSW and talking to many people who don’t understand the system AT ALL. I am happy the voting is compulsory but also should the education about it be!

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